As Americans struggle with the horrific events of Sept. 11, they must simultaneously determine the proper course of action for their country. Before considering possible options, however, several facts and observations about terrorism must be expressed.
First, the terrorism committed on Sept. 11 was unique. It is wrong to place it on the same moral level as American military operations of the past, although some pacifists and leftists insinuate this absurdity.
Clearly, past American military strikes have killed more innocents than the attack on the 11th, but the difference — a difference of profound moral importance — lies in the intent of the U.S. government versus the intent of the terrorists. Never has the American government singled out a civilian target such as the World Trade Center with no higher military objective to justify its action.
For example, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not comparable in their immorality; they were necessary to achieve the unconditional surrender of the Japanese government. Terrorism, on the other hand, has no higher moral end, such as peace, to justify the killing of innocents; its only ends are death, destruction, and terror.
The enormity of such a moral transgression is sickening, and moral responsibility for it lies with the terrorists and should not be redistributed.
Efforts to spread the blame to America are inappropriate and unfair. Granted, the terrorists’ murderous hatred for America sprang partly from America’s foreign policies in the Middle East.
Attracting contempt and hostility is inevitable, however, when a great country takes on the task of protecting others’ democracy and freedom, as in Israel. The fact that safeguarding Israel’s freedom in part led to the terrorism in no way makes the American government morally responsible for the terrorism.
Other anti-American cynics might claim terrorism is the only way for oppressed peoples of the world to lash out against pervasive American influence and the American system of global capitalism. Such assertions attempt to implicitly shift the blame from the terrorists to America, but they do not alter the immorality of terrorism. To counter nonviolent economic power with mass murder is never a valid recourse. Furthermore, attempts to understand the terrorists’ circumstances or motivations are irrelevant; we can guess at the answers, and the answers do not alleviate them of any blame.
There are still legitimate arguments for a nonviolent response. America may not wish to escalate the violence in the Middle East for moral and strategic reasons. If America wantonly ends innocent lives in its pursuit of the terrorists, it will distort the sharp moral difference that now separates it from terrorists. Also, military action will embed deeper the anti-American sentiment in the region and create future terrorist soldiers.
Nevertheless, these concerns cannot deter America from administering rightful justice. A society disrespects the sanctity of human life if it passively tolerates mass murder. Not to retaliate against those responsible would be an affront to the notions of justice and moral responsibility. These truths in themselves do not necessitate war, but a government that protects terrorists might. War is to be avoided for the aforementioned reasons, but it may be the only path to establishing rightful justice.
The Vietnam War planted the pernicious seeds of self-doubt and guilt that have ever since threatened to avert America from fulfilling its obligations to the world and to itself. There are those among us who are determined to view world events through an anti-American lens. For such individuals, the appalling acts of Tuesday, Sept. 11, will be seen as morally equivalent to much of American foreign policy, and therefore undeserving of the harsh retaliation justice requires.
It is time to cast aside this distorted paradigm and begin viewing world events in an objective manner. If freedom and democracy are to thrive, both here and in the Middle East, America cannot afford to idly permit acts of terrorism. Retribution — and, if necessary to achieve this end, war — is the only way to administer justice for such an abhorrent crime.